Female Driven, Female Written: Victoria Snaith of Dread Falls Theatre Talks about Creating Lovecraft Inspired Father Dagon

As most of you know, I’ve been working with Victoria Snaith and Dread Falls Theatre to create what I feel is a fantastic podcast inspired by Weird Fiction author H. P. Lovecraft (who else? You are on Seesar’s website, after all! 🙂 ) One of the recurring comments/compliments I’ve received or seen that Victoria has received is that it is refreshing for a woman to be writing a Lovecraft story and bringing female characters into a Mythos narrative. Of course, there are several fabulous female authors out there expanding the body of Lovecraftian literature, but I do feel (and sure, I’m biased, but that’s okay, because this is my blog) that Victoria is truly bringing a fantastic and unique set of stories to the table, so I wanted to give her an opportunity to give us readers/listeners/fans some insight into her writing and performative genius.

For those of you cultists out there who aren’t familiar with Dread Falls Theatre, or at least the drama performance part of the company, here’s a wee bit of background in Victoria’s words:

“In 2011, I was asked to create short cabaret performance with an alternative twist, but I needed to give the troupe of a name so we could be included in the event company’s promotional materials. I chose the name Dread Falls Theatre; a play on words combining the Victorian pulp fiction known as “penny dreadfuls” and a type of hair worn by goths, who were the main audience at the cabaret at which I was performing. I wanted something that would stick in their minds and be instantly recognizable to them.

“After performing the cabaret act, Dread Falls Theatre started gaining regular work with other event organisers. We slowly moved from cabarets to immersive and experiential theatre. By this time the name Dread Falls Theatre had become official; people knew my work as being under that name, and audiences came to know us as such.

“Alongside providing entertainment for larger companies, I decided to grow our “in-house” offerings by writing and directing The Wake: An Immersive Murder Mystery Experience, and Father Dagon (the stage show, not the podcast which I will come to later). We also have another in-house production coming in July 2017 called Until Death Do Us Part; an outdoor, promenade theatre show written especially for Wycombe Museum in Buckinghamshire, UK. We are also touring UK festivals with our family storytelling show, Tanglewood Tales [being performed as several festival this Summer, which are listed here].

“It wasn’t until 2016 that I decided to dip my toe into the pool of audio drama and podcasting. Up until now our work has all been live, but on revisiting the stories in my theatre version of Father Dagon I saw potential for trying a new direction.

“In terms of influences upon my work; the biggest influence would be folk and fairy stories from around the world. These stories are rich with inspiration; from the unlikely heroes to the tenacious baddies, from the magical adventures to the morals hidden within. Couple with with my love of Gothic literature and dark aesthetics, and you’re getting closer to what Dread Falls Theatre is all about. Throw in a dash of unconventional performance spaces, puppetry, and unusual performance styles and you’ve discovered the coveted recipe for a Dread Falls Theatre Show.”

Victoria Snaith, Queen of Dread Falls Theatre

Well, let’s see, then… Gothic literature, dark aesthetics, spooky tales from around the world. Hmmm… Sounds like time to move on to how Lovecraft entered the sphere of influence! 🙂 Here’s what Victoria says about first encounters and subsequent readings of Mythos goodness:

“I am ashamed to admit this but when I first read a Lovecraft story I disliked it so intensely that I didn’t even bother to finish it. I was given a copy of The Dream Quest of Unknown Kadath and although I could see it’s merit, I just couldn’t focus on what was actually being said. I remember sitting on a train and reading the same few pages over and over, trying to work out what was actually happening. I didn’t read another Lovecraft story for a few years, but when I did, oh boy had my feelings changed!

“The second story I read was Dagon, which was the inspiration for the immersive theatre show and podcast that I later created. Dagon was shorter, more succinct in it’s writing, and this appealed to me. I went on to read more of Lovecraft’s work as well as Lovecraft-inspired works by other authors. Two of my favourite Lovecraft-inspired works are High Seas Cthulhu and She Walks In Shadows.”

When I asked about how Lovecraftian horror started to work its way into performances, here’s what Snaith said:

“Until I started writing Father Dagon (the theatre show [which had a smattering of Seesar music, too, along with some other fabulous New Leaders of the Eldritch Cult sound artists, including raxil4, Mu, and on a yet to be released recording, Akoustik Timbre Frekuency among others]), I hadn’t knowingly included anything with Lovecraft’s influence into my work. Father Dagon was the first time I set out to create something inspired by him, and it wasn’t even my idea! My director of music (Seesar [yep… guilty as charged!]) came to me with an idea for a show, and although he is great musically [awwww…. shucks!], he wanted me to lead the theatre side. I agreed to do the project so long as it could be under the Dread Falls Theatre name [of course!], and began about my research. It was during this time that I started doing all this reading I mentioned before. I became so excited about the project I slowly ended up taking over the whole thing. Sorry Seesar!”

Believe me, I’m super, super happy that it developed the way it did and I must say, Victoria kicked some serious Deep One ass with it all!

Some more specifics about writing Lovecraftian performances: “It is the same for all my projects, whether they be horror, dance, musical, or puppets: I research what already exists, what gaps there in the market, how other professionals make it work, and how I will make it work for me. In the case of Lovecraft inspired work it was important to read Lovecraft’s original work first, followed by writers who have also been inspired by him. This was important because with Lovecraft, you have to know how to create a certain atmosphere. His work is so different to modern horror, or Gothic horror, or whatever else. His work is Weird Fiction, a special genre all of it’s own, and to do that genre justice I had to understand what makes a story “Lovecraftian”. [For a brief discussion on my working definitions of “Lovecraftian” and “Mythos Fiction”, you can read The Art of Eldritch Noise, a manifesto for creating Lovecraftian Futurist Sonoroites.]

“After that, it was important for me to consider what kind of Lovecraft inspired work I wanted to create; the podcast required me to start researching script writing and music for audio drama, which meant listening to a lot audio dramas in hopes I could pin down the winning formula for a successful podcast.”

Podcast! Yay! Tell us more! 🙂 Let’s reiterate the point that Father Dagon was an immersive live performance first and was later transformed into the podcast currently being published.

A scene from the live show Father Dagon (Bristol 2015. Photo by Sarah Koury.)

Victoria talked to me some about how that made the transition from stage to digital media:

Father Dagon,the play, was multi-disciplinary but leaned heavily towards visual and physical storytelling. Choosing to make such a visual show into a podcast was, at first, a daunting task. Would the stories we told with movement be adaptable to spoken word?

“The process of adapting the live show began with practical decisions, most of which were informed by the format of the podcast; writing a script for 6 x 15 minute episodes calls for a different approach than a stage play with two 50 minute acts and an interval, or writing an immersive show with no interval and multiple storylines.

“Once I decided on the format of six episodes I was in a position to start adapting the story from the live show. Although the live show, as I mentioned earlier, was told through physicality, each of the characters had a written backstory. These backstories were unreleased to the public, they were purely for my actors, and were created to help them get into the minds of the characters. Actors love a backstory, they love motive, and telling a story through the medium of movement was often challenging for them; they needed something more concrete to aid them in their character development, hence the written backstories.

“These backstories were what I used to create the podcast script. The original backstories looked at how the characters came to be in Innsmouth (the town in which the live show was set) and where the backstory ended was where the live show began. This gave me a great advantage when starting the adaption process; almost immediately I had six episodes, all with their own self-contained story but headed towards a converging storyline.

“In the final stages of the script, once I was comfortable with the stories, I went back and look at the format of the individual episodes, as opposed to the format of the podcast as a whole. I decided on what I wanted to say in the opening and closing credits and when the podcast “jingle” would play. Once I had revisited these elements the script was complete.”

As I mentioned above, it has been noted that Victoria takes on a unique approach, in part being a female writer and focusing on female characters in various ways. [I would also say that there are some absolutely awesome ladies out there writing superb Lovecraftian/Mythos Fiction, and I wanted to toss out a few names of my favourites here, just to show that Victoria is not alone, but I also want to say that Victoria is an amazing writer, despite what she says about herself… If you want to check out some writers that also fall into this category, try reading some works by Silvia Moreno-Garcia, Valerie Valdes, Lois Grech, CaitlĂ­n R. Kiernan, or Inkeri Kontro to get started.]

Victoria has this to say about her approaches to Lovecraft and writing Lovecraftian stories and gender: “When I created the live version of Father Dagon I didn’t think I was pushing any political boundaries; I was aware I was pushing performative boundaries, but not political. It wasn’t until I started working on the podcast version of show that I realised by being a female theatre director and creating a female protagonist in a mythos written by a man in which only male characters appear, in an industry dominated by men, that I was in some way doing something special.

“I had, in my research and development of the live show, realised that Lovecraft’s work is vastly lacking in female characters. Females do appear in his work but they are peripheral characters. Asenath Waite from The Thing on the Doorstep is arguably one of the most well known Lovecraft females but in the end she turns out to be a man inhabiting a female’s body.

“Is it any wonder that without strong, well developed female characters in the Lovecraft mythos that my own Lovecraft inspired work should have a female main character that was entirely mute?! That is not to say that Ruth (the name of the character) could not speak, but rather I made the decision for her to tell her stories physically and not orally. Why did I make this choice? There was an element of performative intention; all the characters used their bodies to tell stories, but all the other characters also used their voices. However, Ruth remained mute.

“This is curious to me because when I made the live show I wrote backstories for each of the characters to aid the actors in “getting into character”. Ruth’s backstory was the most in depth and compelling. I felt I knew her character the best and I understood her motives and her journey, yet her story was the most hidden, most obscure, the least expressed in the live show. She had so much potential, but I chose for her to stay silent, like many other females in Lovecraft’s work.

“After the run of Father Dagon was complete, I worked on other non-Lovecraft projects until I decided I would make the backstories into a podcast. It was during this time away from Father Dagon that I was given a copy of She Walks in Shadows; an all-female Lovecraftian anthology of original stories inspired by Lovecraft. When I read this book it all started to fall into place; I felt proud of my sisters for tackling the lack of females in Lovecraft’s work, and I realised I was doing the same thing. I hadn’t set out to make a statement, but unintentionally I had,  and now I was making a podcast and that meant Ruth would finally have a voice, finally her story would be heard.

“Although I am very proud to be a female writer challenging the lack of gender diversity in Lovecraft’s work, I have never pushed it down anyone’s throat. If people notice then great, if they don’t then that’s okay too. That being said, there have been people who have noticed and have been really supportive and encouraging. A user on Reddit made a comment about him enjoying seeing a female author tackle Lovecraft, I enjoyed seeing that!”

Personally, I appreciate seeing the incredible writing being translated into a spectacular well-woven series of Lovecraft-inspired tales, irregardless of anything else, but it is nice to see Lovecraftian fiction spanning genders. Well done Victoria! 🙂

Victoria Snaith and Seesar, resurrecting themselves after a long day of podcast recording at the Lovecraft Bar, Portland, OR, USA

What else can Tentalces and Deep Ones expect from Victoria and Dread Falls Theatre?

“I would love to continue Father Dagon into Season Two. The end of Season One (without giving away any spoilers) will leave some questions unanswered, and I think another season is required to tell the whole story. However, without support from the fans, this is unlikely to happen. [Visit the Dread Falls Theatre Patreon page to help Victoria and DFT make more episodes!]

“I have another podcast I would like to release, I have a couple of episodes already written. It would be quite different to Father Dagon though; think Lovecraft and The Mighty Boosh have a threesome with The Scooby Gang and you’re in the right ball park.

“In terms of live work, we have a lot of plans for the next year: DFT have been offered a possible residency at the theatre which would enable us to create a lot more and reach new audiences.”

If you missed the podcast (although I pray to Cthulhu that you have been listening religiously!), you can listen to it in many places. The best place is iTunes, but you can also find it on YouTube, Soundcloud, Google Play (in North America), LibSyn, or on the Dread Falls Theatre podcast page. And again, if you like it and want to keep it coming, then please consider becoming a patron on the Dread Falls Theatre Patreon page.

 

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